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How Boot Camp Compares to Windows Emulators

Boot Camp, the free utility that comes with your Lion on your MacBook, is not your only option for running Windows. A number of excellent Mac applications let you run Windows within what’s called a virtual machine. Although your MacBook is still running Mac OS X, these emulators create an environment in which Windows can share system resources such as hard drives, RAM, and even peripherals.

These Windows emulators have four big advantages over Boot Camp:

  • Versatility: Unlike Boot Camp, which restricts you to creating one Windows partition, Parallels Desktop allows you to create as many virtual machines as you have hard drive space. Plus, you can run multiple versions of Windows, or even other operating systems such as UNIX, Linux, and DOS.

  • Portability: An emulator allows you to store your Windows installation on a separate hard drive — even a large-capacity USB flash drive! With Boot Camp, the Windows partition you create must reside on your Lion boot drive.

  • Shared data: If you have Windows and Mac OS X applications that you must run concurrently (and they must access the same data with both Lion and Windows), an emulator is your only option.

  • No need to reboot: With Boot Camp, you must reboot to run your MacBook under Windows. Software Windows emulators don’t need a reboot.

Here are two major reasons to choose Boot Camp over a Windows emulator:

  • Performance: One word: speed. No software Windows emulator will ever run as fast or perform as trouble-free as Boot Camp! That’s because a MacBook running Boot Camp is actually running as a true Windows PC, able to access all the system resources Windows demands without an emulator slowing things down.

    It makes sense when you think about it. Because you’re running Parallels Desktop “on top” of Lion, your laptop has to devote a significant amount of computing time to just keeping Mac OS X running. In fact, some Windows applications simply won’t run well at all under emulation, such as today’s memory- and processor-hungry 3D games.

  • Peripheral control: If you’re running a software Windows emulator and you plug a USB flash drive into your MacBook, which operating system gets to use it? How about your digital camera, or that external Blu-Ray recorder?

    Although Parallels Desktop has all sorts of automatic and manual controls that you can set to determine which operating system gets to use what, a MacBook running Boot Camp owns everything you plug into it free and clear, with no troublesome conflicts between operating systems arguing over peripherals.

Many Mac owners consider the most important advantage for Boot Camp to be its price: It’s free. You need a licensed copy of the version of Windows you want to run, but there’s nothing else to buy!

Do not install Boot Camp without backing up your existing data on your MacBook’s hard drive! In case of catastrophe, you can always use your Time Machine backup to restore your computer’s operating system and all your data — yes, that’s yet another good reason for you to pick up an external drive and use Time Machine on your MacBook!

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